|THE KEENE STATE COLLEGE MAGAZINE FOR ALUMNI AND FRIENDS||VOLUME XVIII NUMBER 3 Spring 2003|
Sunday is adult hockey league night at the Cheshire Ice Arena in Swanzey, N.H. Players of all ability levels take the opportunity to lace up their skates, adjust their pads, fasten their helmets, and head onto the ice to reconnect with a sport that for most has been a passion since their youth.
For Richard Daisy, Don Arguin, and Dave Desrosiers, all members of the KSC class of 1987, Sunday night hockey games bring back special memories. Playing on the same surface that once served as their home rink, the trio reminisced about a time when the name on their uniforms read Keene State College Owls.
"It brings back a lot of great memories," said Desrosiers, a member of the KSC team in 1983-86. "We talk about those days all the time." Now playing on a team called the Keene Woodpeckers, Daisy was quick to point out that some things never change. "Even after all these years, Dave Desrosiers still doesn't pass the puck," he said with a grin across his face.
While the three readily recalled the Owl teams of the '80s, that was not the first time the College sponsored hockey as a varsity sport. That honor belongs to the 1928 Keene Normal School squad. The team consisted of just seven players, including Harold Fenerty '30, who went on to make a name for himself in tennis. It disbanded after one season. A brief reference in the Kronicle notes that the season "proved to be a success and the men are looking forward to a rink of their own next year." Unfortunately next year never came.
Hockey didn't resurface as a varsity sport until 1950, when a group of enterprising members from the Kappa fraternity at Keene Teachers College decided to organize a team. After speaking to President Lloyd P. Young and getting a less-than-enthusiastic endorsement from Coach Sumner Joyce, they proceeded with their plans.
"The only thing we had of our own was sticks and skates," recalled Don Carle '52, M'56, an original member of the squad. "The rest had to be furnished by the College, but money, like anything at that time, was short."
A resourceful group, the players wrote letters to several colleges in the area soliciting used equipment for their new team. Although they received gear from several teams, including Harvard, Yale, and Princeton, much of the equipment was old and out-of-date. And a uniform that matched maroon pants from Harvard with a blue jersey from Yale - complete with a big "Y" - left a lot to be desired.
In a case of perfect timing, Keene's American Legion team was disbanding and offered their uniforms and equipment, including boards for a rink, to the upstart KTC team. "Richard Salvi, who we called 'Moose,' was the organizer of the team," said Stan White '51, the team captain. "Moose was a big fun-loving guy and got them to give us the uniforms. He could sell a refrigerator to Eskimos."
The only drawback was the jerseys, which were blue and gold, with a Legion logo. The minor problem was solved when the players purchased souvenir KTC patches and sewed them over the Legion emblem.
Using the boards to form the edges, the team set up their rink on a small pond on West Street. Borrowing a hose from the Keene Fire Department, team members took turns waking up early in the morning to spray the rink. The next year they set up the rink on the KTC athletic field.
The squad, composed of many veterans and coached by Lloyd Hayn the first two seasons, faced a schedule that included such teams as Vermont Academy, Clark School, and St. Jean's of Manchester. Because of poor ice conditions on their homemade rink, most of the games were played on the road. Although the Owls received varsity letters, they came up short in the win column during the program's three-year (1950-52) existence.
"It was a tremendous amount of work for what we got out of it, but if you want something you work for it," said Carle. "We were disappointed that we didn't have a better showing and it didn't catch on. But we were a proud bunch."
Hockey had a revival as a varsity sport at Keene State College in 1982. "We lobbied the student body and got the College to reinstate the program," said Hugh Kennedy '85, a first-year team member. "It was exciting. Guys who grew up playing the sport got a chance to be on a varsity team."
Tom Durnford - who still teaches French at KSC as a professor of modern languages - and assistant Fred Haas '87 were brought in to coach the team, which played its games at the Cheshire Ice Arena. They put up the boards, painted the ice lines, and bartered for practice time, which usually occurred at either 11 at night or 6 in the morning.
A competitive team, the Owls nevertheless didn't win a game their first year. The team celebrated its first victory the following season – a next-to-the-last-game 4-3 overtime win against Skidmore College.
"Most of us came from successful high school teams, so the losses were frustrating," said Kennedy, who netted the game-winner against Skidmore. "But everyone knew it was a learning experience, and we were getting better."
"Once the word got out that KSC had a varsity team, kids started to come from all over to join the team," said Desrosiers. "This is a hockey town. There should be no reason why a team could not be successful."
The Owls had their share of talented players over the years, including Ron York, who has the distinction of being the all-time leading scorer during the team's four-year (1982-86) period. For most of the team members, though, even the less skilled, the team provided the best of both worlds - an opportunity to get an education and a chance to play hockey.
"It was an extracurricular activity that took me away from the pressure associated with the academics," said Don Arguin, who, along with identical twin brother Dave Arguin '85, gave the Owls an imposing penalty-killing unit. "We didn't think of the next step and going to the big time. I came primarily for school. The fact that they had a hockey team starting up was a bonus."
While victories were few, the Owl players came away with numerous ice memories that will always be frozen in their mind.
Tim Stewart '87, one of the team's top goaltenders, recalls a game against New Hampshire College his junior season. Playing on an outdoor rink in the middle of a snowstorm, the Milton, Vt., native stopped 68 shots in a 7-4 loss. "I don't know how I saw half the shots," he said. "It was an unbelievable experience."
Joining the ECAC for their second season, the Owls opened up with an exhibition game against a U.S. Army team from Ft. Devens. KSC President Barbara Seelye and State Senator Clesson "Junie" Blaisdell were among the dignitaries who participated in opening-game ceremonies before a packed Cheshire Arena crowd.
With its uneven boards, chain-link fence, and outdated equipment, the Cheshire Arena was far from a mecca of hockey, but it was still a gracious home for the Owls. When a standing-room crowd filtered into the rink for games, like those against down-the-road rival Nathaniel Hawthorne College of Henniker, amenities gave way to atmosphere.
"The rink was full of fans. I'll never forget it," said Desrosiers. "The game was very hard-hitting and competitive. When you're in that atmosphere and you know you're playing for your school, there is no better feeling."
The team's improving performance and strong following couldn't stop the program from being dropped after the 1985-86 season. At the time, KSC was on the verge of moving to Division II and the New England Collegiate Conference, whose primary sports did not include hockey.
"It came down to a change in priorities," said Durnford. "It wasn't through a weakness of the program or support by the fans. We had a big following."
Many players from current and past teams wrote letters to President Seelye, trying to save the program. But after a final varsity game against Nichols College and a couple of years of club hockey, the pucks and sticks were put away.
"I was extremely disappointed about the decision," said Kennedy, who, along with former Owls Dennis White '85, Bill Jacob '86, and Doug Allen '86, still play in an adult league in the Washington, D.C., area.
According to John Ratliff, KSC's present athletics director, there is a flickering goalie light of a chance that hockey will return to the school. "It comes down to having our own facility," said Ratliff. "The cost and ice time make it prohibitive without having the facility. If we had our own rink, it would be a natural."
Stuart Kaufman is KSC's sports information coordinator.